Accounts - 275th - George Barten
The following account is by George Barten, Colonel, USA, Ret., former CO of the 2nd Battalion, 275th Infantry Regiment. It depicts the opening days of Nordwind from the CO's point of view.

2nd Battalion
Wrecker White
275th Infantry

Mid morning, New Year's Day, 1945, just as Col. Charles S. Pettee completed his combat order to battalion commanders, I observed enemy artillery cratering the field and swirling the dead leaves a little north of the 275th Infantry Philippsbourg C.P.. Capt. Harry W. Severance, later S-3, turned towards me with a startled look, holding one of his forearms, bloodied by a shell splinter.

Nordwind had arrived with sleet of steel.

With company commanders and staff I proceeded to Baerenthal to contact C.O. Task Force Hudelson for further orders; the battalion executive officer, Maj. Wilmer Jean, to lead the 2nd battalion up the Zintzel towards Baerenthal.

Company commanders reconnoitered the vicinity of Baerenthal, later to meet me at a vantage point east of the Zintzel overlooking Baerenthal.

At Task Force Hudelson C.P. the staff was burning documents. Col. Daniel Hudelson, with a Klondike sized barkeeper's thumb on the map, told me to defend a sector from Mouterhouse to Philippsbourg, too wide a front for an infantry battalion. I knew then the 2nd Battalion was on its own.

Back at the vantage point, late afternoon, I watched in bemusement as scores of armored vehicles withdrew while the 2nd Battalion was being trucked forward. Darkness was approaching. The companies detrucked. Company commanders led them to dominating land masses on each side of the Zintzel, not without incident: Co. 'E' right, Co. 'G' left, Co. 'F' refusing the left flank in depth, Co. 'H' in support. A week later, for a change in scenery, positions were switched: Co. 'E' left, Co. 'F' right, Co. 'G' left flank.

Wehrmacht infantry, reinforced by armor attacked, supported by artillery; a meeting engagement at night, not exactly a textbook situation. The Germans were duly surprised, as were we. At dawn the battalion reorganized, dug in and took stock. There was a large gap to Philippsbourg to the east and a wide open left flank. I watched them like a hawk. I attempted a perimeter defense as welcome units from the 3rd Battalion joined up. It sufficed.

As has been noted, the line was 'paper thin', but held, initially supported by fourteen battalions of artillery. Coordinated defensive fires gave comfort through man nights. There were no reserves.

Warning orders came from Division to brace for an attack. I recall waiting it out on high, frozen ground, illuminated by moonlight, the air permeated by an acrid but unidentified sweetish odor. There with a silent prayer 'not to fail these men'..calm and peace of mind descended.

January fourth several black painted, German piloted, P-47s strafed the area, bombed the Teufel brueck just north of the 2d Bn. C.P., setting off prepared charges. Numerous beech trees along the road to Baerenthal west of the Zintzel were felled to deny it to tank or vehicle approach.

The 2nd Battalion C.P. in Muehlthal came under sporadic mortar and artillery fire. A sheltered ammunition point (AP) operated by Sgt. Ronald C. Klematsmo, Service Company, a quarter mile or so down the Zintzel, was designated as a Dismount Point. Lt. Col. Pierce, C.O. 1st Battalion, disregarded this precaution. The rear end of his command jeep, including personal gear, was shredded by an artillery round outside the C.P., followed by a reproachful look. Paul J. Gartermann, his radio operator, driver and interpreter salvaged the situation with concealed thoughts.

A battalion morgue protected the remains of several dozen men in dignified array, to be evacuated by Lt. Gus Communtzis, regimental special services officer, for burial at Epinal.

Villagers left Muehlthal. A helpless, bed ridden German veteran of the Franco-Prussian War, uniform on bed, had been left behind. Dr. Kurt Lekisch, 2d Bn. Surgeon, evacuated him to Zinsweiler, with choice words for his family.

VT fuses, highly classified, had been lost by withdrawing artillery. A directed search was futile.

The 2nd Battalion, Wrecker White, now 'blooded' in combat, had shaken down, was a cohesive team. I had the distinct feeling that each man had quietly proven his mettle in combat, now knew himself, was a veteran at a young age.

Pence and Petersen depicted 275th action in 'Ordeal in the Vosges'. In acknowledgement, the Army War College, to which I sent a copy, stated it was part of the hardest fought action in the theater, little recognized then, only recently being researched, because the media had concentrated on the 'Battle of the Bulge'. (B.G. Theodore Mataxis is taking action to complete the historical record.)

I was grateful being entrusted to conduct this operation without interference, coping only with the enemy and the elements - determined to keep control.

Refer to 'Ordeal in the Vosges', Donald C. Pence and Eugene J. Petersen, for details of 2d Bn., 275th Inf. action at Baerenthal, also the 'Trailblazer' by Edmund Arnold.

Related

General Orders - 275th Honor Roll